The Complete Guide to Mid Century Modern Lighting for Stylish Kitchens

Mid century modern design burst onto the scene in the 1950s and 60s, introducing a sleek new aesthetic to homes. Clean lines, retro flair, and space age accents define mid century style. This look seamlessly translates to kitchen lighting, blending vintage inspiration with contemporary function. Incorporating mid century modern lighting is a savvy way to add character and visual interest to your kitchen. The right fixtures can set a chic, mod mood while also providing essential task and ambient illumination. From graceful orb chandeliers to futuristic pendants with Sputnik shapes, the options for infusing retro charm are endless. This complete guide will highlight the best mid century lighting styles for stylish kitchens. We’ll also cover proper placement, materials, expert tips, and where to shop the most stunning statement-making fixtures. Read on to learn everything you need to know to bring eye-catching atomic age inspiration to your own kitchen lighting design.

The mid century modern aesthetic emerged as a contrast to the ornate, over-the-top styles that preceded it. Mid century lighting reflects simpler forms, a blend of natural and industrial materials, and an appreciation of functionality. This makes it an excellent match for contemporary kitchens where clean lines and minimalism reign supreme. While paying homage to the 1950s and 60s, mid century fixtures feel fresh rather than dated. Adding a few choice vintage-inspired pendants or chandeliers creates an eclectic ambiance.

Common Mid Century Lighting Styles for Kitchens

Pendant Lights

Pendant lights make a big decorative impact while providing focused task lighting. Hanging pendants is one of the most popular ways to incorporate mid century style. These lights feature metal accents, orb or globe shaped shades, and cords that can be adjusted to your ideal height. Their minimalist silhouettes containing visible filament bulbs complement both rustic and modern kitchens. Pendants lend a retro flair while still feeling clean-lined and contemporary. Place single pendants over a kitchen island or sink for accent lighting. Use a row of 3-5 pendants over a peninsula or dining area to illuminate meal prep and eating spaces beautifully. Here are some of our favorite mid century modern pendant styles:

mid century modern kitchen light fixtures

– Cage pendants with spherical wire framing – Sputnik pendants with spiky space age shapes – Saucer or UFO pendants for a flying saucer look – Simple orb pendants in polished chrome or brass – Teardrop or raindrop shaped pendants in glass – Globe pendants with frosted, hammered, or colored shades – Geometric pendants with triangular, diamond, or pyramidal shapes – Industrial pendants with exposed filament bulbs

West Elm, Schoolhouse Electric, and Lumens all sell stunning mid century pendant options at reasonable price points. For authentic vintage mid century pendants, check 1stDibs and Etsy for restored originals. Let your pendants serve as the focal point by opting for neutral cabinets and minimal ornamentation. A trio of copper dome pendants would pop beautifully against all-white kitchen cabinetry. For more color, look for pendants like Schoolhouse Electric’s Pink Glass Helix Orb.

Track Lighting

Track lighting offers wonderful flexibility for directing light exactly where you need it most. Tracks are mounted high on walls or ceilings. You can then place individual lamp heads along the track and angle them towards key areas like countertops or tables. Since each light operates independently, tracks enable you to highlight or dim specific spots. Positioning track lights over an open concept kitchen provides both ambiance and task illumination tailored to each zone. Focused beams of light give life to kitchen islands and display corners while also ensuring prep and eating areas are brightly lit.

Mid century style track lighting features clean lines and often incorporates exposed bulbs or vintage lamp head designs. To prevent them from feeling too clinical, look for oval, cone, bowl, or dome-shaped lamp heads. Materials like brass, copper, and chrome add warmth while glass lamp covers provide a soft, diffused glow. Cage shades with wire spheres or globes are another fun retro option. Simple rail kits can be installed at any height. You can also find mid century track lighting ready to mount on 4-12 foot long bars. Brands like WAC Lighting, Tech Lighting, and LBL Lighting offer mid century track lighting to suit any budget.


Chandeliers immediately create visual impact and work wonderfully as statement centerpieces in kitchens. For a mid century modern look, we recommend orb chandeliers, cage chandeliers with round silhouettes, or sputnik-style statement chandeliers. Their bold shapes command attention in an elegant way. Strategically placing an eye-catching chandelier over a kitchen island or dining area adds both beauty and ambient lighting.

Look for chandeliers where you can see the inner workings, bulbs, and hardware. The visible wires, sockets, and light elements give a cool retro-industrial edge. Painted brass or antiqued metal finishes keep things feeling sleek rather than gaudy. Match metals throughout the kitchen for a pulled together look. Opt for champagne gold, black, matte white, chrome, or bronze finishes. White sputnik chandeliers pop against darker wood cabinetry while brass makes a sumptuous statement against white. Size your mid century chandelier appropriately for the space. An island spanning 48-60 inches suits a chandelier 25-32 inches wide. Smaller 30-36 inch islands can house mini chandeliers 16-20 inches across.

Exposed Bulb Fixtures

Visible bulbs are a hallmark of mid century lighting. This vintage industrial look features prominently in many mid century kitchen lighting options. Pendant lights, sconces, chandeliers, and other fixture styles leave bulbs uncovered. The translucent glass bulbs then become part of the decorative allure. Exposed bulbs illuminate spaces in an unobtrusive ambient way. For kitchen islands and eating nooks, exposed bulb pendants or chandeliers are recommended. Their soft glowing presence works well above areas for gathering and dining.Use filament bulbs around 25-40 watts so light is not too glaring. Opt for Edison or retro style bulbs with visible coils. Warm white 2700K bulbs provide welcoming light versus cool blue undertones. Match metals throughout your kitchen for cohesion. Mixing brass, copper, chrome, and nickel finishes adds eclectic charm.

When incorporating exposed bulbs, also minimize competing ornamentation. Exposed lights feel modern yet nostalgic. Allow their presence to shine by keeping surrounding surfaces like walls and cabinets visually clean. If your kitchen itself has substantial decorative detailing, conceal bulbs inside frosted glass pendants instead for a softer effect. The Danish lighting company Louis Poulsen makes exquisite mid century lighting with exposed bulbs and slim profiles. Restoration Hardware, West Elm, and Anthropologie also offer more affordable exposed bulb options in on-trend styles.

Recessed/Can Lighting

Recessed can lighting offers ambient illumination perfect for complementing mid century feature pendants and chandeliers. Recessed or can fixtures are embedded into the ceiling, creating minimal visual disruption. The recessed lighting casts even, diffused light throughout a space. This makes it a wonderful choice for overall kitchen illumination. Pairing recessed cans with hanging pendants over key areas helps differentiate activity zones.

While recessed lights work in any design style, opting for trimmed cans versus untrimmed creates a cleaner look congruent with mid century style. Low profile, slim cans also blend in better aesthetically. 4-6 inch trims finished in chrome, nickel, or white keep the cans looking discrete yet stylish. Place recessed lighting judiciously in areas without hanging pendants or chandeliers. Groupings of four or six cans make sense over gathering areas like breakfast nooks. Perimeter placement shining light inwards works for galley or open concept kitchens. Lighting experts recommend a layout with recessed lighting spaced every 4-6 feet around the parameter. Install any necessary wiring and electrical during kitchen remodeling to strategically place recessed cans based on your layout.

Materials and Finishes for Mid Century Kitchen Lighting

Beyond the shapes and silhouettes, the materials and finishes used for mid century lighting also impact the overall aesthetic. During the mid century era, bold use of metals like brass, copper, chrome, and aluminum was popularized. These materials not only added to the sleek, modernist look but also provided durability. Natural wood finishes helped balance and warm up the industrial metals. Additional materials commonly seen in mid century kitchen lighting include:

  • Frosted or hammered glass for lamp shades – provides diffuse glow
  • Acrylic panels used instead of glass – lightweight option
  • Orb, cone, diamond, tear drop shapes in metals – sleek and sculptural
  • Woven rattan, bamboo, wicker – organic textures
  • Clear, transparent lucite – for ultra modern effect

For a cohesive look, choose fixture finishes that coordinate well with your kitchen’s overall palette. Mixing too many competing metals and colors can make things feel chaotic. If your kitchen features champagne bronze hardware, stick with bronze pendant lights and chandeliers. Accentuate cool-toned countertops like soapstone or quartz with frosted glass pendants. Let wood cabinets serve as a natural foil to chrome track lighting. Think about the finishes already present when selecting mid century lighting. Vintage style filament bulbs also help reinforce the retro modern ambiance. Pair globe pendants and track lights with Edison bulbs. Opt for warmer 2700-3000K color temperatures rather than cool bright white hues. The visible coils and softened glow enhance the mid century vibe.

Expert Tips for Pulling Off the Mid Century Kitchen Lighting Look

What sets professionally designed kitchens apart is careful attention to lighting. Simply choosing some trendy mid century pendant lights alone won’t necessarily create a cohesive look. Follow these pro tips for properly incorporating retro lighting into your kitchen:

  • Mix vintage light fixtures with modern elements like recessed cans and LED under cabinet lights.
  • Balance mood lighting like stylish pendants with adequate task lighting for food prep.
  • Mount pendants at countertop height for best visibility – 30-34 inches above islands or tables.
  • Add dimmers for adjustable light levels based on activities and ambiance.
  • Work with qualified electricians familiar with installing hanging lights.
  • Use pendants and chandeliers in proportional scale to their surroundings.
  • Accentuate kitchen islands and dining nooks using statement mid century lighting.
  • Incorporate retro wall sconces flanking a backsplash or above cabinets.

Thoughtfully wiring kitchens to support both form and function takes expertise. Don’t be afraid to collaborate with lighting designers or electrical contractors, especially for complex layouts. Proper placement of fixtures, switches, and dimmers will allow your mid century lighting to truly shine.

Shop Our Favorite Mid Century Modern Kitchen Lighting Options

The key to achieving a stellar mid century modern kitchen is sourcing the right lighting fixtures. While you can certainly scour flea markets and estate sales hunting down originals, many top brands now offer new production options made to mimic retro designs. We’ve curated our go-to selection of stunning mid century kitchen lighting ready to order online or in-store. Here are some highlights:

Pendant Lights

  • Lumens Orla Pendant – sputnik spheres with bronze finish
  • Crate & Barrel Eclipse Smoke Globe Pendant – smoked grey glass
  • West Elm Bubble Glass Pendant – retro round frosted glass
  • Rejuvenation Downtown Pendant – cone-shaped polished aluminum
  • Schoolhouse Electric Cornerstone Pendant – triangular brass frame


  • Arteriors Dionne Chandelier – adjustable height with brass rods
  • Rejuvenation Sputnik Chandelier – smaller 28″ diameter
  • West Elm Outlet Orb Chandelier – skeleton frame with bulbs
  • Crate & Barrel Colson Large Chandelier – spiked spheres and wood accents
  • World Market Celeste Orb Chandelier – shimmering chrome finish

Track Lighting

  • Lite Source Savanna Track Lighting – dome glass heads with exposed bulbs
  • WAC Lighting Melange Monorail Lighting – oval heads and chrome finish
  • Lamps Plus Hudson Valley Barium Track Lighting – short 12″ track in black
  • Bellacor Circa Lighting Horizon Track Heads – clear seeded glass bell shade
  • Amazon Basics 1-Light Track Head – budget parabolic shade option

Recessed/Can Lighting

  • Recessed Lighting Corp. 4″ Slim Recessed Light Trim – low profile
  • Progress Lighting Philips Drift Chrome Trim – concave shape
  • Halo H7ICT 6″ White Recessed Lighting Can – affordable white trim
  • Sunco Lighting 4 Pack Adjustable Gimbal Trim – pivot direction
  • WAC Lighting Xavier Monorail Puck Lights – for a track lighting alternative

Visit our Mid Century Lighting Inspiration Gallery for even more stunning options to illuminate your space with retro flair.

While lighting is critical, don’t stop there when designing your mid century modern kitchen. The overall look should feel cohesive from cabinets, to hardware, counters, and accessories. Here are some finishing touches for really nailing the aesthetic:

  • Wood cabinetry with horizontal grains and minimal ornamentation
  • Two-toned kitchens like white uppers with walnut bases
  • Hardware in chrome, black or brass for handles and pulls
  • Quartz, granite, or solid surface countertops like Caesarstone
  • Subway tile, colored glass tile, terrazzo, or concrete backsplashes
  • Stainless steel, retro Smeg, or gaggenau appliances
  • Nelson bubble lamps, house numbers, clocks for mid century accents
  • Bar carts, vinyl booths, Bertoia side chairs for retro touches

While some era-specific materials like lacquered melamine are being revived, aim for timeless over conspicuously themed. Not every element needs to scream mid century. Mixing in some contemporary finishes creates an eclectic blend. Remember to also look up from the finishes and focus on clean lines, simple forms, and making sure each furniture piece and material has purpose. Maintaining a minimalist, uncluttered aesthetic helps keep things from veering kitschy or too literal. Let lighting be your focal point versus novelty accessories and patterns. See our complete Mid Century Modern Kitchen Inspiration for more design ideas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *